Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday urged “healthy skepticism” over Myanmar’s dramatic reforms, saying only the rule of law can cement recent political progress and foster clean investment.
Speaking at a gathering of world business leaders in Bangkok, she also warned China and the US against turning Myanmar into a “battling ground” as they vie for influence over the strategically important nation.
On her first major international engagement after more than two decades of isolation, the Nobel laureate dampened what she called “reckless optimism” over democratic measures taken under Burmese President Thein Sein.
Appealing to delegates to “think deeply” about the wider good of Myanmar, she said hope in her country’s future since the end of five decades of authoritarian rule last year should be tempered by caution.
“A little bit of healthy skepticism is in order,” she told the packed auditorium.
In practical terms, Myanmar needed the “rule of law” more than anticipated investment legislation, Aung San Suu Kyi said, as the country tries to embed democratic reforms, lift millions out of poverty and defuse the “timebomb” of high youth unemployment.
Companies are hungrily eyeing resource-rich Myanmar after political reforms were rewarded by the easing of some international sanctions.
However, she expressed fears a flood of investment — and international competition for a foothold in the nation — could deepen graft and serve the nation’s elite.
“We do not want investment to mean more possibilities for corruption,” the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate said. “We do not want investment to mean greater inequality, and we do not want investment to mean greater privileges for those already privileged.”
Resource-rich but poor Myanmar has a history of engagement with Beijing, but Washington has recently sought closer ties with the quasi-civilian government, easing some sanctions to reward the end of military rule.
“I’m always very concerned when Burma is seen as a battling ground for the United States and China,” she told reporters in a press conference following her forum address.
“It should not be so, it should be an area of harmony for those two big countries,” she said, adding that Myanmar and China had been “good neighbors” for many years.
Exhorting potential donors to empower rather than undermine civic society, she said genuine change can only blossom from within the nation.
“They say God helps those who help themselves,” she added.